As you know, he needs regularly grooming every two to three months. On the last couple of ocassions the groomers have been been unable to clean his ears and say he snaps when they try to approach them. The same with his claws - although they don't need cutting because he is quite active and fit. The vet recommended that I give Bobby some sedatives before his next cut, Zylkene, which I bought from the internet. I gave him this, but it didn't calm him down and again he reacted badly when the groomer tried to clean his ears.
I have just taken him to a different groomer - who was recommended and is male and very experienced - and fully explained all the circumstances of what had gone wrong before. Bobby became anxious almost as soon as he was in the groomers and snapped at the man when he tried to pick him up. Then after I left Bobby, he bit the groomer as he tried to pick him up to begin grooming him. All attempts to groom him were then abandoned.
The groomer said Bob is obviously terrified and must have had a bad experience previously and is reacting badly. The groomer suggested that the eventual solution would be to have Bobby put down because there was no guarantee he wouldn't turn on someone else when he was frightened. This horrifies me.
He also suggested that he may need to be sent away to a therapist, or alternatively anaethetised before he was groomed - if I can find a vet willing to do it.
Bobby is normally a very sociable and happy dog and is good with both adults and children - very friendly. I have never seen him show this level of aggression outside of being at the groomers. He lets me bathe him and trim bits of his coat - although he clearly doesn't like it, he has not been aggressive with me.
At this stage, I don't know what to do for the best. Can you advise?
I don't know whether its normal for a dog to snap or bite when it is frightened and if this can be trained out of him. Or how to stop Bobby feeling so frightened when he is being groomed and reacting badly?
Matthew Finnegan, by email
Karen Wild, behaviourist (www.karenwild.co.uk), advises...
This can be a common problem so please do not feel that Bobby is the only one. Firstly, a dog that is fearful is highly likely to snap and bite no matter what they are like the rest of the time. Bobby has a specific fear of being groomed and this may not mean he is likely to bite at other times. When I deal with aggressive dogs in my behaviour practice work, the owners are always worried that their dog will somehow be labelled 'bad' or 'difficult' when actually, their behaviour is perfectly normal given the situation they are in. The rest of the time they are in their comfort zone so are happy and relaxed, loving pets! Grooming may not be something they welcome, and taking them to a stranger who has to give them close examination and use noisy metallic things around them can make them very unsure.
So let's be proactive. Firstly you need to find a groomer who is happy to take their time. We are lucky to have a fantastic one near here that I can send my clients to after working with their dogs on behaviour modification. Secondly, you can do a lot of the work at home - not only learning how to groom Bobby, but also teaching him that grooming can be enjoyable. Make a list of all the things he might not like; having his ears touched, hearing the clippers, being gently restrained, having his feet picked up... it may be a long list! Then, put the list in order with the things he likes the least down at the bottom of the list. Start with the easiest one at the top of the list - this may be having clippers held close to him. Make sure he is quite hungry and keep your clippers nearby. When Bobby is eating his dinner, or when you are petting him, hold the clippers in one hand and offer him a really smelly, tasty treat such as ham or chicken with the other hand. He has to learn to associate a nice, relaxing time with these things being around, long before you switch them on or even try to groom him with them. Gradually work your way towards having the clippers closer, and eventually switched on, but this must be done with care and forethought and may take several weeks. An APBC behaviourist will be able to help you with this in a lot of detail (www.apbc.org.uk) and may assist you to clicker train him to accept being handled although use of a clicker is not essential.
Once you have worked your way through this list - calmly, and enjoyably associating the whole process with fun and delicious food for Bobby, you must tackle the next stage which is getting someone else to do the same thing. Not complicated, as you can follow the same procedure, but you do need a sensible groomer that will support your efforts and will not mind taking their time and may even do a home visit and teach you how to groom him yourself. They may want additional money but you are paying for their time and expertise and I am sure Bobby is worth it!
For goodness sake do not even consider having Bobby put to sleep without proper expert advice from an APBC registered, qualified behaviourist. In my profession we work with dogs that are fearful in similar ways that have bitten repeatedly, and they often show excellent progress. We do have to consider everyone's welfare but this is a situation where Bobby is being put under specific pressure. If we can remove that pressure by changing how he feels about things, he will not need to 'defend' himself. If there is a risk of him biting, you can teach him to enjoy wearing a muzzle whilst you are working on desensitising him.
If all else fails and you have tried your very best, with expert help, sedation is sometimes offered by Vets to prevent the dog becoming overly stressed. Whilst this is very much your Vet's decision I would strongly recommend you follow the above advice with expert help first.
Vicki Milner, Canine Welfare Trainer at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, advises…
This is not an uncommon problem; unfortunately some dogs build up negative behaviours from going to the groomers. Bobby is expressing his feelings of concern and the only way he can do this is through body language and snapping which can on occasions lead to biting.
Fortunately you can help him, the first thing we need to do is make the experience pleasant for him, and this may take some time. I would suggest that discuss with your current groomer their feelings about trying again, but it may be best to look for an alternative one. Ideally research various groomers taking the time to explain Bobby’s behaviour, looking into the different options of taking him to a salon or a mobile groomer, ask them how they feel about his previous behaviours and ensure they are prepared to be flexible with regards to how long it may take to get him groomed again in the future. It is important that the experiences he receives from now on are a positive as possible.
I would suggest that whilst doing the following training that it may be best to get him used to wearing a muzzle this will ensure that he is comfortable and relaxed when wearing one and you and the groomer may feel more at ease if he did try to bite. Take your time and do this slowly so that he is relaxed when wearing this.
To be able to work on his handling issue you will need to take some steps prior to introducing him to a new groomer you will need to build up positive good associations to being handled first. This can be done at home utilising food, toys or affection. It is best to use the reward that he enjoys the most, but finding a really tasty treat that he loves will be most beneficial.
When he is at his most relaxed such as after a walk or a play session start to do some gentle handling with him, ensure that he remains relaxed when doing this and offer him food as a reward, keep these sessions short to begin with and concentrating on areas that he is most comfortable with at first building up to the more sensitive areas as he becomes more confident. You will need to stop the sessions as soon as he becomes anxious or stressed going back to an area that he was relaxed with and building it up again from there. This may take a few sessions keep them short and it is best to go slow to prevent him building up yet more negative associations with been handled.
Once he is happy to be lightly handled all over you can now bring in grooming equipment and start the process again. Once you are happy and confident with his behaviours at home discuss with your groomer about the next steps this could be them coming to you or if they have a salon you taking him over. The smell of groomers may bring back all those negative experiences so at first we just want to make the visits as positive as possible. Take him to the groomers and allow him to meet the staff especially the person who will eventually groom him and spend some time helping him to relax utilising food, toys and affection when he is calm. If at any point he starts to become anxious or stressed remove him from the situation and start again, this may take some time. This process will may need to be repeated a few times. On the first time he is left with the groomer it may be best that he does not have any grooming done, this is so that he does not build up a negative association with being left at the groomers meaning that he is then going to be handled and pulled about.
Again continue to have discussions with your groomer on how you would like to proceed perhaps at first it may be best that they only groom on the areas he is most comfortable with at first building up to the difficult areas as he relaxes more, it is important that you continue with the positive associations as home so that he continues to remain relaxed when been handled and groomed. As he becomes more at ease with the situation having other members of the family help with this will aid in reducing his anxious and worried behaviours.
Hopefully this should all help to reduce his anxieties and ensure that he starts to enjoy the grooming process.